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Friday, November 11, 2011
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Where to Go for Radio

You've noticed. The radio industry is going through change. Whether or not radio will benefit from the changes is up for discussion. For a different perspective, let's not dive into "what is happening in radio" but "if the way it's happening matters."

"15 years after the internet became part of our lexicon there is no regular, effective use of it within radio programming..." For me, what's most important is that there are no new updates in "how" the backbone of radio operates. Not one group has offered new programming, nor in the way it presents commercials. Note: A "programming" exception is Clear Channel CEO's announcement that - despite radio's claim to being local - its small and medium markets are destined to use programs which do not originate there.

There's something else Mr. Pittman said, "...broadcasters shouldn’t become too hung up on digital revenue." That bothers me.

On October 31, under the headline "Royalties remain streaming’s dark cloud," the "Inside Radio" web site said: Some 15 years after the first internet stations sprang up, no one has turned streaming into a profitable business, causing many to believe the current royalty rate structure needs to change for streaming to survive. Expectations are royalties will become more favorable for webcasters.

Not sure where Inside Radio got information that "no one has turned streaming into a profitable business" (there are successful stations), or why this headline appeared so close to Bob Pittman declaring "...broadcasters shouldn't become too hung up on digital revenue." I'm also curious as to who it is that's expecting "...royalties will become more favorable for webcasters." (It's a shame this Clear Channel-owned publication did not give the royalty issue more attention when it was shackled to webcasters.)

Just what is digital revenue in the radio industry today, and why is Robert Pittman stating that broadcasters shouldn't get too hung up on it?

There are many online ad networks racking up digital profits; adconion, astral, Casale, ValueClick, and zedo are a few. BIA Kelsey says that "local digital media revenues will reach $23.3 billion in 2011."

Despite what's often said, there's an edge for radio when it comes to digital.

Forget the current (and what may be unwise) rush to couponing. Also, drop the fad called social network programming. (We'll see what happens to broadcast's social media radio after the digital dashboard has reached mainstream.) Today, start adjusting a radio station's programming to be used as an adjunct to what the station does online. Now is when the radio industry NEEDS to be focusing on understanding and practicing digital revenue.

Radio web sites may be poorly designed under-trafficked promotional tools, but it's one heck of a good place to begin the accountability required in advertising campaigns, tied to an over-the-air broadcast.

There's no talk of radio email campaigns. Yet, a radio station is better equipped at soliciting email addresses than any local business besides television. (Newspapers had their chance but let it slip out of their hands.)

The radio industry can also go digital, better than it does, by offering different programming on streams. It's a natural experimental ground to give tomorrow's air talent a platform for honing skills.

Radio executives have always looked at numbers, though they've been numbers on size of audience or breakouts provided by a Scarborough report. Looking at numbers for improving design or execution efficacy is foreign ground, yet that's where the radio industry should be placing effort now.

15 years after the internet became part of our lexicon there is no regular, effective use of it within radio programming. (NPR is the exception.) We have no standards for email campaigns. Nothing to show how a station can build better contests using the internet. We do, however, focus on chasing the easy deals of coupons and social media without devoting proper resources to make either a success - or to properly measure if they are.

I greatly respect Robert Pittman, but disagree with his assessment that the radio industry can improve by offering smaller markets major talent; that thought comes from his investment mind, not his spectacular creative mind.

Apps? For a radio group they make sense. For an individual station? I can't find the math that shows enough of an audience will use a single station's app to make the cost worthwhile - even if we don't take the brief shelf life an app has into consideration.

Here's where we should be looking:
1) To see in real-world terms where the radio industry sits with its audience.
Listening and reading to see the disdain spoken about commercial overloads
and repetitive music.
2) How to support placing a constant "local" element in programs.

Another "Inside Radio" headline that appeared at its web site on 10/13/11 was "Radio's new digital business: Counseling." With local businesses receiving more sales calls from an ever-expanding array of digital marketing services, some are turning to their trusted radio reps for help in navigating the interactive jungle. That's creating what could turn out to be a cottage industry for radio in markets big and small.

As long ago as 2004, I was pushing that radio is perfectly set up to be the conduit to new media for its over-the-air clients. Each market cluster should have its own internet guru to help clients navigate their way online. This should not be at the expense of over-the-air, but as an ancillary service provided to local merchants who are destined to try internet advertising.

It's heartening to see a trade publication acknowledging there's a "cottage industry" waiting; if only radio would get involved. 15 years after the first internet stations sprang up there are few options except to embrace digital. It's where the audience is now.

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